Writes on travel, life, work and more. Slomad since 2018. Founder @ RemoteBase, sharing remote work accommodation deals!
As a digital nomad you’re in control of your workspace as much as you are your location.
You probably harness that freedom to pick exciting, interesting new destinations to work from… but how much attention do you give to your workspace once you’ve arrived?
‘Um… some, I guess?’
Wherever you’re reading this from, right now…
Your phone in a coffee shop? Your laptop on the sofa? A co-working space?
… How deliberate is your set up?
Don’t worry. It’s pretty normal to pay less attention to your actual, physical workspace, than you do your actual, physical location. But it’s just as important - if not more. Here’s 3 reasons why, and 3 tips for preventing these nomad productivity road-blocks!
Let’s get you set up for digital nomad success…
#1 A bad working set-up makes your output inconsistent.
We’re creatures of habit. We love a routine. When you have a location-based job (like working from an office) your routine is built around the location (maybe you visit the same coffee shop every day before work, or use the same locker at the gym round the corner).
Take the location away, and the routine can fizzle.
You and your routine-loving subconscious are left looking for subtle cues for what to do, but they never come, leaving you feeling unproductive and unfulfilled when you wrap up at the end of a long day,
How can you fix it?
Create and own your routine.
Avoid all the mental grogginess with a routine to match your natural flow. I can’t workout as soon as I wake up, and I can’t write articles after the sun goes down (not good ones anyway).
Execute > Analyse > Repeat.
Start with asking yourself when you do your best work, and build your routine out from there. Give it a week or 2 and than analyse. What worked? What didn’t? When did you seem to have energy? When did you not?
If you can see room for improvement, make tweaks, and give it another shot for 2 weeks. Then repeat.
#2 A poor working environment will let all life’s distractions in…
Ever seen horses trotting along the roads with those little caps over their eyes? They keep the horse focussed on the road ahead, and stop things on the periphery from distracting the horse. Things like traffic, people, other animals, bright lights, food… the list goes on.
No, I’m not trying to call you a horse! But I think I’m making my point. As a digital nomad who's already playing fast and loose with a routine (see above), you’re more likely to get distracted. Life’s distractions can range from good weather, to friends and family, to chores like laundry!
How can you fix it?
Dedicate a space
Having a physical barrier helps you create a mental barrier. If there’s a way to put a closed door between you and all the non-work stuff, that’s a great start. Think about it as a literal segmentation of work and life, to help you focus on one at a time.
What if I have no Door?
I get it. When you’re on the road as a digital nomad, it’s likely you can’t always use the ‘close a door’ method - maybe you’re working from the kitchen table or the terrace.
If that’s you, no stress, you can practise some alternative methods to segment your work-space from your life-space…
On arrival at a new destination, find a spot and choose it as your ‘I-work-here’ space. From then on out, only work from that seat or room. Nowhere else. Even when it’s really tempting.
If you have to work from a kitchen table, choose one seat to work from, and a different seat for enjoying meals. This small detail goes a long way in helping you segment life and work, and ultimately keeps you zoned in for those critical focus tasks. You’ll probably enjoy meals more, too.
If you absolutely can’t help bluring work and non-work into a single space, make sure you pack all the tech away at the end of the work day. Yes, that means you have to get it all out again the next day (and repeat), but it’s worth it.
Without a commute, or the physical distance between you and your work, you’ll struggle to ever really switch off. And we all know switching off is KEY.
#3 A poor desk set-up will damage your body in the long term
Let’s say you devise the perfect routine, and you can successfully segment all of life’s distractions from your work… It’d be a shame to throw all the hard work away because you’re squinting at a screen that’s too far away, or not bright enough, or your mouse gives you a wrist injury, or you get a numb bum because you’re sat on a hard seat too long…
All this is like getting custom shoes made, and then wearing them on the opposite feet. It’s just painful.
How can you fix it?
Optimise for comfort AND productivity
The most commonly made mistake I see here is optimising things to a single end of the spectrum. People tend to either optimise solely for comfort (if you work from the sofa - or worse, from bed! - I’m looking at you!), or solely for productivity.
Strike a balance. Where a really comfy working set-up might be productive for 5 minutes, by the end of the day you’re going to ache. And if you work that way every day for 5 years you’re going to ache a lot more.
Now, the exact fix for this depends on your natural preference. You have to start by understanding where you are right now. Are you a lounge-pants-work-from-sofa kinda guy or a mechanical-keyboard-and-mood-lighting kinda gal?
Good news is there’s a few bases you want to cover no matter what your starting point is. So consider…
- Pen & paper instead of digital notes.
- Take a break from the screen when you can, and get the satisfaction of striking off reminders and to-do list items.
- Eye-level screen!
- Stack some books, or use an adjustable laptop stand (the K2 works like magic!)
- Give yourself some back-up!
- Ergonomic chairs don’t travel well, but you can try to keep yourself in check with a pillow or a rolled up towel placed behind your lower back. This one has saved me on more than one occasion!
- Regular breaks
- This is worth highlighting even if you aren’t living the nomad life. If you have trouble remembering to take regular breaks, I recommend the flow state podcast on spotify - it’s essentially a playlist that gives you 25 mins of focus-inducing music, at which point, a soft voice shares some words of wisdom, and reminds you to take that well needed break. Of course, you can go classic pomodoro, or go hardcore with your diary blocking. Just take some breaks, whatever you do.
Setting up your workspace for success is important both mentally, and physically. Not only do you benefit when you get it right, but there’s lots to lose if you get it wrong.
We’ve talked through 3 tips to help you maintain a sustainable remote-working set-up, but if you only take 1 piece of advice away today, take this:
Make a deliberate choice about each aspect of your setup. If that’s all you remember, the other tips should naturally fall into place.
If you’re unsure how, you can do this by asking yourself ‘do I want to…?’ questions:
- Do I want to be working from my phone on the sofa?
- Do I want to be working with all this artificial light?
- Do I want to be working with the TV on?
- Do I want to work right next to the coffee machine?
The digital nomad lifestyle can be one of the most rewarding and fulfilling if you harness it’s full potential. Don’t ‘travel-hard’ and burn yourself out too soon. If you do, you’ll end up limping home. And that’d be shame. Because there’s a whole world out there for you to explore…